James Harden stepped up when his team needed him most.
With Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid sidelined with a right knee injury, Harden set a playoff-high 45 points and go-ahead hit, a 3-pointer running back on Celtics big man Al Horford with 8.6 seconds left in the game. Boston Celtics 119-115 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With no Embiid on Monday night, the Sixers turned to their perimeter offense, and it worked. Philadelphia connected 17 three-pointers, with Therese Maxey adding 26 points and Tobias Harris 18.
“We didn’t go into the game expecting to lose,” Harden said.
Game 1: 76ers 119, Celtics 115 | Philadelphia leads the series 1-0
Who was the man? Harden was incredible. He hit 17 of 30 shots and attempted only four free throws. It looked like the antique Harden we saw in Houston.
What was the key? Although Boston lived in the paint, Philadelphia outscored the Celtics by 21 points from outside the arc. mathematics. learn it.
Basic stats: There are more important numbers than this, but I think it should be recorded that the game involving Harden didn’t get his first free throw until 30 seconds after the end of the first period. The two teams combined for just 30 free throws.
The moment it’s over: When Harden hit his three-pointer over Horford for the go-ahead, the game-winning basket. It was a back-and-forth game for the last 29 minutes.
Match moment: See above.
Should the Celtics be worried? Losing Game 1 on your home floor with Embiid sitting out should make Boston a little wary going forward. Do I expect Harden to do this for a full series? Mostly not. However, if Embiid plays out sooner rather than later, the Celtics could be in for some trouble.
What can the 76ers do to win Game 2? I loved the Monday night game plan. Feely hit 38 three-pointers and shot 44.7 percent. Also, Harden Unleashed is fun. Harden’s No. 1 option is a blast. More of that, please.
What can the Celtics do to win Game 2? Get more 3-pointers and force the Embiid-less 76ers to make mistakes more often and relax on the turnover.
Game 2: Nuggets 97, Suns 87 | Denver leads the series 2-0
Who was the man? the Joker. Nikola Jokic put up 39 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. It was only the second time in this postseason that an MVP had led the Nuggets in scoring, and it was the first time he had done so in a win.
What was the key? The Nuggets defense was good in the first half, fell behind in the third quarter and then really took a lead in the fourth quarter. Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown have led the way to this end. The Suns shot 7 of 24 in the fourth quarter.
Basic stats: Phoenix shot 19 percent of the 3. No kidding.
The moment it’s over: With about two minutes left to play, Caldwell-Pope and Murray, who was 3 of 15 from the ground, hit back-to-back jumpers that dipped Phoenix and put the lead almost at ease.
Match moment: Chris Paul left the game with about four minutes left in the third quarter after injuring his groin while trying to get a rebound. The Suns were playing well at the moment, but things started to go downhill shortly after Paul’s exit. Statistically, the veteran guard didn’t have a great night, but he was the only player with a positive minus sign.
Should the sun be worried? Ayton guarding Jokic, Paul getting injured, losing to the Nuggets in a game where Murray shot 20 percent… yeah, Phoenix has to worry.
What can the Nuggets do to win Game 3? Lock up defensively like they did Monday night. This was as good a defensive performance by Denver as I’ve seen him play all season.
What can the Suns do to win Game 3? Hope Durant doesn’t have another bad shooting night, pray Ayton plays defensively against Jokic and beg the basketball gods that Paul’s injury isn’t as serious as it sounds.
(Photo by Nikola Jokic and DeAndre Ayton: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)